[opensource] Intellectual property concerns
D. Brian Larkins
larkins at cse.ohio-state.edu
Sun Mar 19 13:10:31 EST 2006
Adam Porr wrote:
> In your experience have you found that these agreements generally
> apply only to IP that is substantially related to the work that you do
> for your employer or is it more general? Have you found companies who
> are willing to make exceptions for open source?
I've worked at several places that have required an IP agreement as a
part of the employment offer. I'll answer inline below based on my
experience at each employer. I've worked at AT&T Bell Labs for about 6
years, a streaming video startup for two years (Startup 1), and a
data-mining based intrusion detection startup for three years
(Startup 2). Currently employed as a GRA at OSU.
> Perhaps this is better phrased in the form of a short survey:
> 1. Does your employer require you to sign an intellectual property agreement?
AT&T: yes. draconian.
> 2. Is the scope of the agreement limited to IP related to the type of
> work you do for the company?
AT&T: much like Battelle, we own anything you make that we want. I never
heard tell of anyone losing a side project to this, however.
S1: explicit restriction to streaming video at specified bit-rates
S2: explicit restriction to intrusion detection systems
> 3. Does your agreement have, or were you able to negotiate, an
> exemption for open source projects?
S1: yes. in IP contract without negotiation.
S2: yes. underlying run-time was built in-house and GPL'd
> 4. Are you able to notify your employer beforehand of projects that
> you are interested in pursuing in order to get their permission?
AT&T: yes (subject to backpedal and litigation later)
S1: not needed
S2: not needed
IMHO, I'm leery of this type of mechanism. The approval process usually
needs a sign-off from God, who's usually pretty busy, and giving away IP
scares the crap out of every mid-level manager in the chain on the way
up. Usually takes months or years if it ever happens at all.
In short, there's not much point in arguing with a big institution like
AT&T or Batelle about things. Right or wrong, they can easily spend more
money on litigation than most people are willing to spend.
Also make sure to take a look at the non-compete clause. Although
usually acceptable with big companies, startups can have exceptionally
freakish restrictions on how you can pay your bills should you leave
their employ. A lot of them are unenforcable, but can cause problems
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